Taizé / Rogation / Compline

It seems quite a while ago since being in discussion about Taizé Services for 2020. The first, held on 16th February, was much enjoyed, but little did we realise then how much our worship was about to be affected. The remaining Taizé services were to be on Monday in Holy Week, Sunday 17th May and Sunday 11th October (Harvest). My diary, rather unusually in these more secular times, identifies each Sunday with its correct place in the liturgical calendar (and all other important feasts and Saints, days). From this I noticed that 17th May is Rogation Sunday, and thus related to the Harvest service we’d scheduled for later in the year, though it hadn’t been particularly planned that way.

Rogation Sunday has always seemed to me to be at the beginning the process that ends with Harvest; a time of prayer and intercession for a satisfactory yield from the crops being, or about to be sown. I had begun to investigate how this theme could be incorporated in our 17th May Taizé Service. But then came the lockdown! Our plans for the Taizé-style Communion service on the evening of Monday in Holy week, had to be radically altered. For a start, it was now going to be streamed live, and the inclusion of any music in such a service would require the permission of the copyright holder. Though it has been possible to obtain the kind permission of David Thorne, the composer of the Mass for St. Thomas for its use in subsequent streamed Communion services, there was little prospect of similar permission for the use of the Taizé chants it had been planned to include.

There are elements within a Taizé type service that provide its essential atmosphere and character: the chants, certainly, but also the meditative nature of the prayers, the inclusion of some none-Biblical texts, especially poetry, the specific period of silence, and to an extent the lighting of candles. Fortunately, the elements we were able to include within the now familiar office for the Distribution of Holy Communion at Home or in Hospital worked satisfactorily when streamed on Monday in Holy Week, but it was clear that a typical Taizé Service was less likely to do so; a live streamed ten-minute silence would certainly present problems! My plans for the 17th May service needed revising.

Then I remembered some thoughts I’d had about the possibility of a Taizé – style Compline service; a meditative, reflective service in which some Taizé elements could be comfortably accommodated. The usual chants couldn’t be sung, but perhaps the Compline Hymn could, and lighting a candle and including a shorter silence might also be practical. I began to work on something along such lines.

In addition, I thought it worth exploring a little more about Rogation itself. The word comes from the Latin “rogare” – “to ask”. Rogation days date back to the 5th century, replacing the Roman “Robigalia”, a sacrificial rite to propitiate the deity Robigus, requesting the protection of crops. Rogation originally involved fasting and abstinence on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday immediately before the celebration of Ascension Day. In addition, farmers had crops blessed by a priest, asking for God’s blessing for a bountiful harvest. Rogation reached the British Isles in the 7th century and began to involve a more elaborate ceremony on the Sunday before Ascension Day. In addition to the blessing of crops, this included a “Beating the Bounds” procession around a parish boundary, often involving banners representing Biblical characters – a dragon (Pontius Pilate) and a lion (Jesus Christ); all very different from the original penitential beginnings.

Our celebrations of harvest have evolved beyond thanksgiving for the successful gathering of crops, important as this may be, and the entire subject of climate change, and our stewardship of the earth and its resources, have become an increasingly important part. Rogation too, as I noted earlier, at the opposite end of the growth cycle, will inevitably also embrace these aspects. The streamed Compline Service on the evening of Sunday 17th May will have a Rogation theme and Taizé elements too. By Harvest time it would be good to think that the present restrictions that prevent us holding services in church will have been mostly lifted, and a more familiar Taizé type service will be possible. We must continue to pray that this will be the case!

Andrew Mayes

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